Hack it, Learn it and Engineer a Better Future: The Youth of Sierra Leone

Whoa it’s been a while. Re-posting a recent blogpost I wrote with my lovely colleagues David Moinina Sengeh and Heather Cole-Lewis for Engineering4Change.

Today, at Prince of Wales secondary school in Freetown, Sierra Leone, dozens of students are running around in a 12 by 25ft (3.5 to 7.5m) space scribbling on erasable dry paint. They are pulling apart whole computers, hacking circuits, making films and constructing paper mache prototypes of what they imagine the future of Sierra Leone to be. This DIY, free-for-all space, is not what you would typically find in a formal learning environment (particularly not in “developing” countries), but Mr. Bundor, the principal of the school, thought it was a good idea to enable students as makers and learners. The students are proving him right.

Stuff happening in the lab.

In 2013, our youth-education non-profit Global Minimum Inc. partnered with the Clinton Global Initiative to create four Innovation Labs. The labs are safe spaces for youth to explore their interests through tinkering, designing and prototyping projects using various tools at their disposal. The potential for maker education spaces to equip youth with new life-long learning pathways is indisputable. And online resources such as these tips at Edutopia.com make it easy for teachers to integrate making into the classroom.

Project-based learning and skill development combined with empowered design might just be the formula for youth makers to change the world. But civic engagement has rarely been identified as one of the pillars of maker education. Youth projects in GMin’s Innovation Labs are rooted in learning through making and solving problems that students can identify with. This sets the Prince of Wales Lab apart from the ever-increasing establishment of maker education spaces around the world. At Prince of Wales secondary school, electronics (Arduino, Makey Makey), film, metals, wood and paint are all part of the suite of tools students use to identify and solve the problems they find relevant within their communities and across their nation. These issues can include energy, water, sanitation, gender equality and others. Mentors and staff within the lab support students’ pursuits with community-building exercises and civic design challenges.

 

Is it necessary to educate the youth about civic responsibility? Absolutely, and incorporating it into the maker education space through workshops and other activities provides youth with an additional layer of purpose and motivation, atop exploring their passions and interests. Project-based learning, related to community issues, allows youth to strengthen other skills like leadership, collaboration and negotiation with a more applicable and fluid approach. These skills are essential for any kind of innovation and entrepreneurship.

We expect that the long-term impact of the innovation lab on the youth of Salone and the greater community will range from changes in self-efficacy to a higher interest in STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) and related careers to working prototypes and novel inventions, which can make an impact within their communities and potentially scale beyond them.

Maker culture and mere exposure to innovation has re-engaged youth in STEM/STEAM and formal education, and it has positively made learning fun. This new generation of global citizens have a fresh perspective on learning, enhanced STEM/STEAM literacies and last but hopefully not least, the responsibility and desire to transform their communities and the lives of those around them. Project-based learning and skill development combined with empowered design might just be the formula for youth makers to change the world.